VR rhythm game Synth Riders sees players enter a neon-chrome playspace inspired by the '80s and move their bodies to hit notes in time to the synthwave soundtrack, all in a way that's conducive to dance. This has seen the game garner a cult following and allowed the team to support its community with significant post-launch content free of charge. We spoke to Synth Riders' Abraham Aguero about all this and more.
Having just expanded the soundtrack from 16 to 21 songs and introduced a suite of new modes, all via a free update, what are your plans for continued support moving forwards?
We have more music packs lined up as we move forward. We are big believers in giving our fans great value for money, so our plan for the moment is to bring more content to the game, while keeping with our current pricing. However, we also intentionally wanted to help foster a community both in terms of beatmap editors and game modders. We get a lot of great feed from both of these communities who love the ease with which they can create their own tracks or modify the game. This in turn helps us get greater awareness and greatly helps expand the experience of the game.
Courtesy of the same free update, Synth Riders is now the first game to feature native integration of the YUR.fit software - how does it feel to help keep people in good health whilst they enjoy playing the game?
I think this is a huge evolution for Synth Riders. We were approached by Cix Liv, who not only co-founded YUR.fit, but also the in-game video streaming technology, LIV. Cix noticed the number of Streamers who played Synth Riders and recognized the synergy between playing the game and losing weight. We have always been interested in exploring this VR fitness niche, but Cix is building a whole business around it.
He has a great clip on Facebook that summarizes his vision for VR fitness, which he believes is a game changer because it combines fitness and fun. Players who enjoy active games like Synth Riders or Beat Saber are actually improving their health while they play. YUR.fit now helps these enthusiasts understand the degree to which they are burning calories. Synth Riders is stoked to be working so closely with Cix and his co-founder Dilan who have really helped us on a number of strategic and marketing levels.
Was the fitness element a consideration when development started, or more a happy side effect of the game’s involved motion controls?
Well music and dance was always a central component of our game. From our perspective we wanted our fans to have fun and get fit. YUR.fit wants fans to get fit and [have] fun. There is a subtle difference but the two are very closely linked.
Does the success of Beat Saber - a game with which yours shares many similarities - mostly excite or concern you? Is there something which really sets Synth Riders apart from the competition?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. Many people who had not heard about Synth Riders immediately think we are just jumping on the Beat Saber bandwagon. The reality is that we were both developing our games at the same time. Beat Saber came to market about two months before us and it wasn’t until they emerged that we realized the game existed. Personally, I think Beat Saber is a great game. At this stage whatever helps enhance the industry is great for everyone, so to be compared with Beat Saber is a compliment.
When it comes to the differences between our games I think it boils down to fighting a foe or dancing with a partner. The fundamental difference can be found in the titles of the game. Beat Saber plays off the word beat, which references the rhythm element of the game, but also the boxing component. You [literally] have to beat the game with your saber. With Synth Riders you are drawn into a dance. Because your hands are transformed into orbs [(instead of sabers with some range to them)] it forces you to move more of your body. Once you begin to master our game you really have to be dancing, you are playing with the game, as if it is a dance partner, you are not opposing it.
You’re currently working on an Oculus Quest release; how’s that coming along? Also, do you have any plans to bring the game to PlayStation VR in the future?
We have done a lot of work getting the game ready for Oculus Quest and if you ask our team it’s pretty much ready to go. We are just waiting for the greenlight from Oculus. When it comes to demoing the game, working with Quest is a breeze because the set up is so simple. Because our game is so active the fact that Quest doesn’t have any wires or cords frees up the player and helps them really get lost in the game, which is huge.
In regards to PlayStation VR, we have been approved as VR game developers and are hoping to have the game on PlayStation by mid to late fall.
As previously mentioned, you’re currently in Early Access - when can we expect to see the full release?
Our plan is to come out with a full release by this summer, when we will have more songs to offer and some other exciting developments, which are currently under wraps. But stay tuned. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks to Abraham Aguero for taking the time to answer our Synth Riders questions!
Check the game out on Steam, the Oculus Store, and Viveport if you're looking to have some fun whilst working on your fitness. Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR fans should also keep their eyes peeled for Synth Riders' impending release on both platforms.
For a chance to win 1 of 5 Synth Riders Steam keys, enter our giveaway.
Telefrag VR is a no-nonsense 1v1 arena shooter boldly said to deliver "what other studios are afraid to touch". Set in a world where futuristic gladiators fight for the glory of a Roman Empire which never fell, inspired by greats like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, Polish developer Anshar Studios are aiming to bring a frenetic and competitive FPS experience to virtual reality whilst preserving player comfort.
Do you worry that the fast pace and gravity-defying movement might cause motion sickness in some players? Have you found that basing movement on dashes and teleportation, rather than smooth locomotion, helps to prevent that?
Thanks to Detached, we understand the motion sickness problem very well. On the basis of these experiences, we decided to implement in Telefrag VR the so-called dash movement, which aims to reduce the problem, while maintaining the dynamics of the game, which is our priority. However, during the open beta on Steam, players clearly indicated that they expect us to add smooth mobility as an alternative. The request for smooth mobility came from a group of hardcore players. So to keep the . . . accessibility, but also give space to be better and more open for involved players, we've added a second mode of movement!
I think the fact that players from the beginning have an alternative to the movement and that the game itself is built (maps, gadgets) to eliminate the effects of motion sickness is the best form of counteraction and we feel that we have done everything we could to make players feel comfortable.
Telefrag VR revolves around 1v1 deathmatch duels, but would you ever consider upping the player count and/or introducing additional modes like capture the flag?
The most legendary and exciting ([due to] the high stakes) duels in Quake 3 Arena were 1 vs 1. We decided that we would like to submit a tribute to this form of rivalry through our game. In addition, there are design considerations related to VR itself. We do not want the player to feel overwhelmed by the number of stimuli in Telefrag VR, our goal is to make the game fun from the beginning. At the moment we do not have plans for adding new modes, we are completely focused on the essence of our game: intense 1 vs 1 arena shooting.
Big, elaborate weaponry is central to any classic arena shooter, and so far you’ve showcased three guns which meet that expectation, but will there be additional weapons in the final game?
As you rightly noticed, the rich, interesting arsenal is one of the basics of FPS games. It will be the same in our game.
There are two more weapons ahead of us. The first of these is the Laser Pistol, which is the perfect weapon for all those who value precision. So if you loved Rail Gun duels in Quake 3, then this is definitely a weapon for you. The last weapon from our arsenal is [the] Particle Cannon – this weapon shoots a straight, continuous lightning bolt punishing anyone foolish enough to stand out in the open. Come in too close, and the alternative mode will snap and follow you. You can thank Quake 3's lightning gun for that treatment
To sum up, in Telefrag VR, players will have five weapons at their disposal, each with two shot modes. And another one… you can use [two] weapons (one per hand) at the same time. This allows for more variety of attack during moment-to-moment gameplay. Just imagine it, shooting at the opponent with one weapon and firing the teleport with the other to change position.
We’ve only seen one map so far; can you share any information on any of the three as-yet-unseen maps you’ve teased on the Steam page?
[An upcoming] teaser which we have prepared reveals a bit behind the curtain [on] the remaining battlefields. In order not to reveal everything, but also [further tease] the secret, I will mention that the next maps after Fallen Champion, which you could see in the Announcement Trailer, will be: Mobius Villa and Lazarus Grotto.
Mobius Villa is the perfect reproduction of the ancient architecture of Rome. The traditional Roman domus contains specific elements like peristyle, atrium and beautiful sculptures on every corner. It's slightly different from Fallen Champion, [where] construction was focused on wide-open spaces. Here, we are dealing with a completely different picture of the futuristic Roman Empire - Calmness and prosperity can be seen at first glance.
Lazarus Grotto: Do you remember Dagobah from the most popular movie saga? . . . This comparison perfectly reflects what can be found on this swampy planet. Dirty wetlands arouse anxiety, so you better [not] leave the playing field. Nobody knows what can be hidden in the nearby wetlands. The arena winds around a rock formation, which allows you to fight on several levels.
But these are not all galactic battlefields. Closer to [Telefrag VR's] premiere we will reveal more.
In what ways has your previous VR game, Detached, helped in shaping Telefrag VR?
From the design side, thanks to our previous game, we have understood the problem of motion sickness and how to reduce it, as well as how to create maps to maintain the proper, but also clear dynamic gameplay.
With Detached, we've been at the biggest gaming events, thanks to which we've learned to better observe how players play and how to ask them about feedback so that they do not give us only compliments, but accurate information. The fact that our previous game for some time was in Early Access taught us how to work with the community.
Finally, thanks to Detached, we knew what we did well in the game, but also the areas in which it required better quality. In a nutshell: without Detached, Telefrag was never there!
Telefrag VR is launching simultaneously on HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR with cross-platform multiplayer - does that extend to the PS VR version, or is it just between the PC headsets?
We decided on full cross-play. We really want all VR enthusiasts to be able to play with each other regardless of the platform. There is no denying that the simultaneous premiere with the cross-play function from the beginning is a huge challenge for our company, but also an exciting learning experience. Keep your fingers crossed for us, especially for the QA team!
Are there any plans for an Oculus Quest release?
I must admit that at the moment we do not have such plans. If something changes, of course, we will inform you!
Are you able to narrow the release window yet, or can we still just expect to see Telefrag VR launch at some point in 2019?
The premiere is very, very close! Telefrag VR will be released this summer, as you've noted on several platforms at the same time - this is our goal and we are totally focused on it.
Thanks to Szymon and Jakub from Anshar Studios for taking the time to answer our Telefrag VR questions.
If you're interested in their virtual reality arena shooter, be sure to wishlist it on Steam and keep an eye out for it on the Oculus and PlayStation stores.
Having begun life on Steam and iOS devices, FDG Entertainment’s Venture Kid made its console debut earlier this month on Nintendo Switch. Join us for another quickie as we take the retro-inspired platformer for a spin.
Eek! Sounds frustrating.
Don’t worry too much, as after every victory you’re given a new toy to aid in your quest, and perks such as extra lives or additional hearts can be purchased at any point (except during boss fights) using orbs collected within levels.
Would you recommend it, then?
Yeah. It’s pretty short, taking us just over two hours to reach the final level, but hidden collectables and additional Switch-exclusive modes (Survival and Boss Rush) offer some extra staying power.
Venture Kid is also cheap as chips at £8.99, and potentially even cheaper if you already own an FDG staple in Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Oceanhorn or Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
Welcome down to the paradise city, where we’re pumping At the Gates in our latest quickie.
Alright. How does the blighter play?
Exactly as you might expect, especially if you’re familiar with Civ. You’ll be constructing your clan, learning new professions and skills, expanding your horizons, meeting and fighting other factions, plus loads more.
The game is still in its early-ish stages, mind, so watch out for bugs and crashes (we’ve already had a few of those).
How’s the presentation?
Really lovely, to be honest. The map’s rendered in a beautiful, hand-drawn art style and has neat touches like concealing undiscovered areas under tea-stained map paper. You can add to the pile fabulous character drawings, some solid sound effects, and musical interludes that all round out the charming audiovisual package nicely.
Is it accessible, or do diehards only need apply?
Colonel Indecisive says it’s a little bit of both. Yes, it’s dense, and the opening hours might feel impenetrable to a complete layman, but persevere and you’ll find a decent game full of things to explore and get lost in. At £25, this definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth a punt if you’ve a taste for the turn-based.
Bring on the crash fixes, too, Jon-boy!
Christmastime, beige platters and booze, enough of Dad’s jokes, I’m off for a snooze… It’s that time of year again, folks: tubs o’ Twiglets, too many choccos, and wondering what to get that discerning gamer in your life. Luckily for you, we’ve got that last one covered!
4/5 figgy puddings
Retro-Bit Super Retro-Cade
Well, this one was a real find. Throw the PlayStation Classic away, retire the SNES Mini, and get stuck into an arcade emulation machine with a world of expansion opportunities.
Included in the fabulously decorated box are 90 - yes, 90 - arcade and console titles from the likes of Data East, Irem and Capcom that were popular during the late 80s through to the mid 90s. Add to that two SNES-style controllers, and you have a decent package straight out of the box. The whole thing is worth it for Magical Drop and the SHMUPS alone, if you ask me…
Victory in the mini-console wars is achieved, however, with the ease that one can customise the Retro-Cade, simply by loading games onto an SD card and then banging it in the back. Brilliant!
4.5/5 mince pies
The last time I really got into a strategy game was late 1999, when Command & Conquer launched on my beloved N64. I’ve flirted with Civilisation, and given a cursory glance to Tropico, but Northgard really is up my street.
A good old RTS game set in a Norse world of Vikings, Northgard tasks you and your band of Northmen with plundering a new continent, building bases and conquering foes. You don’t need a roided-up PC to play it either, and it’s ruddy good value at £24 on Steam.
4.5/5 toy viking warships
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Imagine a combo of 80s arcade hit Paperboy and Hipster Whale’s mobile smash Crossy Road, and you’re pretty much there. A pop culture-packed arcade-athon, The Videokid will appeal to people who grew up in that glorious age of gaming, as well as youngsters with a love of all things instant.
It’s under £4 across the platforms, so perfect for stuffing that digital stocking!
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
A charming independent adventure game that provokes memories of many 16-bit, side-scrolling classics, Owlboy possesses gorgeous art, amusing dialogue and a signature mute protagonist. Our personal highlights are the excellent orchestral soundtrack, vast dungeons, big bosses and fun-fuelled flight mechanic - imagine Nights into Dreams funnelled through Nintendo-vision!
4.5/5 pixelated Santas
Will you be picking any of these suggestions up as last minute prezzies? Perhaps you're hoping to receive one yourself? Let us know in the comments below.
Regardless, have a great Christmas and we'll see you back here for more stocking stuffers in 2019!
As we hurtle towards 2019, there’s time for one final quickie of the year, with puzzler The Gardens Between our lucky recipient.
With that in mind, does it come recommended?
If you’re fine with the price (or subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, where it’s available at no extra cost), then yes. The Gardens Between has a gorgeous art style and exemplary soundtrack that blend beautifully with simple, effective gameplay to create one of our favourite sleeper hits of 2018. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on what developer The Voxel Agents have planned next!
We’re back for another quick one as we get to grips with Overcooked! 2’s new Surf ‘n’ Turf DLC. Are its levels fun in the sun, or all washed up? Join us on a culinary adventure to tropical climes.
Don’t be fooled by the setting - Surf ‘n’ Turf is no vacation.
Challenging? I thought this was supposed to be a holiday resort!
Don’t be fooled by the setting - Surf ‘n’ Turf is no vacation. Aside from the water hazards and infuriating, obstructive conga lines, score limits on levels seem absurdly high.
Even with a fellow Overcooked veteran in tow, we struggled to gather the stars needed to unlock subsequent levels, with plenty of replays required to refine our technique and get near those higher scores.
While mastering levels is, arguably, part of the fun, more casual gamers such as partners and kids may struggle with the opening few levels’ difficulty spike.
Is it a recommended dish?
If you can gather together the two or three capable bodies needed to overcome the higher scores, then yes, it is. It’s cheap, the new setting is a lot of fun, and, if you’re good enough, there’s plenty of content to tuck into.
Welcome, welcome, one and all to a dark and dangerous evening filled with cards, strange characters, initially dense gameplay ideas and bags of longevity. Was ist das? Well, Alexis Kennedy’s new game, Cultist Simulator, of course.
What about the presentation?
We had the game running at highest settings (though can’t imagine there’s a huge difference between presets in this instance), and although there’s not a great deal going on, it’s quite lovely. Both the table and cards have muted, pastel-y colours that really complement the cracking sound effects and music.
It’s nearly £15 quid on Steam; is that too much?
No, not at all. We’ve played our fair share (and more) of overpriced, average indie games, but this really isn’t one of them. The branching narrative paths are a delight and the deep gameplay systems beg for repeat play - if you’ve got a PC, we implore you to have a crack at this mysterious gem.
Stolen Couch Games’ Animal Crossing-inspired life-simulator, Castaway Paradise, hits Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this week, so grab the factor 50 and join us on a trip to warmer climes for our latest quickie.
Fishing, a classic life-sim pastime, is also a little more intuitive in Castaway Paradise, with players able to aim while casting out and use special bait to attract bigger and rarer fish in their quest to top global leaderboards.
Castaway Paradise is an homage to Nintendo’s incredibly popular life-sim series.
Would you recommend it?
Whilst Castaway Paradise doesn’t quite have the level of charm or polish to compete with its original inspiration, the game’s light-hearted nature and sense of progression should be enough to satisfy those looking for an Animal Crossing fix on non-Nintendo platforms.
Wait, no Switch version?
Sadly not, no. Stolen Couch haven’t entirely ruled out a Switch port, but, despite it being a perfect fit for Nintendo’s hybrid console, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting one any time soon.
With this pair of spiritual Left 4 Dead successors launching almost hand-in-hand on Xbox One, fans of frenetic co-op will no doubt be left pondering where to turn for their latest fix. Whether you’re more immediately drawn to the high fantasy of Vermintide II or the grounded sci-fi of Earthfall, we’ll be assessing how they compare in a few key areas in order to decide which emerges with its hand held high.
Both games are ostensibly similar, though their contexts and wider systems set them apart on all but the surface level.
Vermintide II has no such equivalent, but a much deeper well of customisation options helps to offset the absence, boasting more consistently engaging core combat not necessarily in need of the differentiation. This leads to a more consistent pacing, which can be both a good and a bad thing; all of Vermintide II’s missions are equally exciting, but do less to propel you onwards when you’re sure of what’s to come.
As well as having more tools at your instant disposal - with close-range thwackers outshining their slightly-less-whelming ranged counterparts in this instance - there are also more baddies against which to put them to practice. Combat, which is really at the core of both experiences, is stronger in Vermintide II due to this all round variety and a generally more bloody and impactful implementation.
Value & Longevity
Neither game lasts particularly long in terms of a one-and-done playthrough, so it’s a good job that they’re both designed to be played and replayed ad infinitum. High levels of challenge and moderate randomisation across enemy and item spawns help to ensure repeat ventures remain varied and engaging, though tangible rewards beyond just achievements do give Vermintide II the edge.
The latest in the Warhammer staple also features a greater number of missions, whilst at the same time costing slightly less (if anything at all, should you be an active Xbox Game Pass subscriber), surely awarding it a second straight category? For now, perhaps, but with Earthfall set to receive free campaign DLC in the future it’s quite possible that the tables could turn.
In terms of premium DLC, the pair do offer up optional cosmetics, though, thankfully, you can directly pick your poison instead of gambling on paid loot boxes. While you don’t get much opportunity to appreciate outfits from a first-person perspective, you will enjoy envious looks from online co-op partners, as you’ll want to avoid playing offline with merely adequate bots in either title whenever possible.
Each game weaves a threadbare narrative, acting as all the unintrusive motivation you need to keep busting heads as and when you see fit. In both instances stories are told through character dialogue snippets during gameplay, but to much greater effect in Vermintide, owing to its vibrant cast; while this injects an extra dose of personality, it leaves the survivors of Earthfall free to do the invaluable job of calling out enemy spawns more consistently.
Recognisable ambient and soundtrack cues serve a similar role in both games, in time negating much of the dialogue disparity as you learn to distinguish portions of audio, the dynamic soundscapes ramping up alongside escalating danger as more and more enemies are piped in.
Handling hordes of on-screen models is always a technical challenge, leading both titles to encounter very occasional frame drops, but nothing significant enough to really impact either experience. That’s especially impressive when Vermintide II runs at native 4K resolution on Xbox One X, whereas Earthfall isn’t enhanced at all, creating a clear visual gap for owners of Microsoft’s most powerful console.
Warhammer: Vermintide II
With almost a clean sweep, Vermintide II is clearly the more complete product and the game we’d recommend if you really must chose. If you’re any kind of starved Left 4 Dead fanatic, however, you should definitely consider snapping up both.